Bill Cosby, our funnyman turned jeremiad–our fire bell in the night–has lately been very quiet.
No more bombshells dropped recently, like saying the problem of the Black community gets out every weekday by 3 or 3:30 p.m., vulgarizing and disrespecting everything that moves, sometimes with deadly consequences. Currently, Cosby has been replaced by another renowned elder, Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam.
During his Saviour’s Day message on Feb. 27, Farrakhan reportedly said, “I saw my beautiful sister the other night at the Grammy Awards–Rihanna. My poor sister, she’s dressed almost with a pair of draw(er)s. And got her legs wide open and just grinding away…. She’s filthy and those who watch her are swine.”
As Cosby did earlier, Farrakhan is trying to remind us that we need to check ourselves, that we are taking ourselves over the cliff without any need of help from the Tea Party or other nabobs of negativity. The old joke about the KKK retiring since Black folk are doing much better at decimating themselves than the Klan could ever do may be closer to the truth than most of us dare to admit.
The issue, according to Farrakhan and others, is that Black folk during this day and age have lost their moral compass, that soulful instinct for what was truly right or brazenly wrong in their conduct to and with each other. Whether agreeing with Farrakhan’s assessment of Rihanna’s leg-spreading antics on stage or not–competing with Lady GaGa for the outlandish award?–one thing is certain: in this age of HIV and multiple sexually transmitted diseases, the moral standards of conduct and deportment among our young is as deplorable as our fall from educational grace to quasi-literacy in the urban areas.
What happened? How did we get to the point where too many of our young can’t tell a classy, sophisticated lady from a tattooed hoochie? When too many young Black men think virtually all Black women are either selling it or giving it away, and can be treated thusly?
One significant part of the Black experience was always this feeling of being proud to be morally upright. No matter how low things got, there were always enough of those with righteous starch and clarity in their girth to maintain a balance between head held high and wallowing in sin.
Today, there seems to be a big gap where that balance used to be and amid constant denials by participants in moral mayhem that they are doing anything wrong, illegal, or dangerous to the interests of the community. In fact the community, they say, still loves them.
Maybe so. But it seems to be a pyrrhic love more than anything else. And those who have earned or been anointed to achieve fame and fortune by the Black community need to be held accountable to and by that community.
What’s missing here is proper parenting, neighborhood extended-family tough love, and the virtual absence of leadership from the one institution that has always stood tall within and for the Black community–the Black church. But that is the subject of another article at another time.
The Black community has always leaned on and depended on its leaders and role models for guidance, vision and as reference models. Such leadership–in politics, religion, community organizing, education and economics–never had to be perfect. It just needed to be consistent and trustworthy.
In politics, for example, the Black community has regularly forgiven incompetence, lateness and severe absenteeism in favor of the mantra, “Just don’t embarrass us!” Lord knows we’ve forgiven plenty of very imperfect pastors and educators. But most of them, even in their folly, got it; they knew more was expected of them and they generally owned up to it.
Not so for too many celebrities and entertainers, such as Rihanna or, say, Cedric the Entertainer. He never did get it when the Black community loudly told him to humble up regarding Rosa Parks. He ignored the counsel and the pressure to “act right.”
In fact, he wasted a grand opportunity as master of ceremonies for a three-hour televised show in which he could have easily taken a few seconds to say something like, “Mrs. Parks, I’m sorry. I meant no disrespect about the sit-down joke. I know you’ve been a great symbol of strength and hope to us all for a long time.”
She was still alive then. That would have won him a legion of fans and extended his career. He didn’t and it didn’t. He never acknowledged his responsibility and obligation as a well-paid role model and he will rue that decision.
Even though many in the entertainment industry think it is a simple process of practicing, performing, recording, accepting accolades and applause, then getting paid and going back to square one, the process has always required more than that for those who were more than one-hit wonders. Rihanna is an icon. She has the chops, the looks and the moves. She has influenced thousands, even millions of young girls and women to emulate her, to model her, to become her.
Like it or not, Rihanna, and the few like her–Beyonce, for instance–have and will have a definitive impact on how a whole generation of young women see themselves. If you have beauty, brains, more than a one-trick pony talent pool, and yet you still feel the need or desire to act like Lil Kim, then that’s what too many of these influenced young ladies will also do.
Denial of responsibility is no excuse. Rihanna and Beyonce, you have that kind of moral authority and you need to own up to it.
Celebrities and our other leaders need to remember that to those that much is given, much more is expected. Part of the cost of their fame is to acknowledge that they are role models and they thus have a moral obligation to show their constituents the way to hold their heads proud in moral uprightness again. That is and always has been a particular strength of the Black community.
Where is Lena Horne now that we need her?
Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or Non-Governmental Organization (NGO). It is the step-parent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.
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